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This guitar blog has been around since 2011. The site remains active, and I reply to almost all comments. But I’ve posted here less frequently as my focus has shifted from text to video.

I post frequently to YouTube. Please visit my channel. And if you find anything worth your time, please subscribe. There too I reply to most comments.

Also, please feel free to friend me on Facebook. I accept nearly all friend requests and respond to most comments and messages. Plus, I know lots of famous, infamous, and just plain interesting guitar folks, and they’ve always got interesting things to contribute.

I’m also on Instagram as tonefiend. My Twitter account sucks — basically, it’s duplicates my Instagram feed, minus the photos.

Don’t do social media? I congratulate you on your good sense. You can always contact me via my personal page, joegore.com. Or just go ahead an email me directly.

Don’t be a stranger — keep in touch! 🙂


Welcome…

. . . to a blog about all the things you can do with — or to — a guitar. Topics: DIY, instruments, amps, effects, recording, software, technique, music history, music heresy.

From Medieval to Modern

I’d never have imagined that I’d get to participate in so many cool music collaborations during Covid lockdown — man, was I fortunate! One of the most exciting developments was being invited to join Another Night on Earth, an international octet of electric guitarist who perform classical music.

A few months ago I posted our first virtual concert. The link includes some info about the incredible musicians I get to work with, ranging from Steve Vai’s favorite contemporary guitarist to the guy who leads the conducting department at Julliard. There’s an old musicians’ saying: You’re lucky when you get to perform with players who are better than you. If it’s true, I am really frickin’ lucky.

Last week we posted our second concert.

This one is a real mixed bag. It starts with a medieval piece that I transcribed for two guitars, which I perform with group founder Heiko Ossig from Hamburg, Germany. Next comes a octatonic-scale workout by Daniele Gottardo, performed with Steven Mackey, who is almost certainly the world’s leading exponent of using electric guitar in contemporary classical music. Finally, all eight of us perform Bill Ryan’s recent composition Simple Lines, originally written for eight cellos.

Assembling complex music remotely has presented challenging technical hurdles, and not just the complexities of trans-continental file management. Unlike most pop music, classical pieces usually aren’t performed to a steady click — tempos breathe freely, and the BPM number can vary bar by bar. We’ve experimented with unusual workflows, sometimes reverse-engineering audio that was recorded in strict tempo. In some cases, conductor David Robertson creates a free-flowing tempo map, which we enter into Logic Pro (our primary DAW of choice) so each of us can perform independently to a free, ever-shifting click.

Speaking of medieval music: I’ve been obsessed with early music since I was a teen. When I was 18 or so, I was certain that I would become a university professor specializing in music from before 1650. Fate decided differently — I wound up playing in rock bands and writing about music. Now, in late middle age, I’m returning to those roots. I have a particular passion for the music of the 14th century, the catastrophic era that included the 100 Years War, the Papal schism, and the worst ravages of the Black Plague. The era’s art music is an extreme as its time. It can be incredibly bizarre, especially the stuff from the end of the century, right before what we call the Renaissance.

A damn good read!

Besides being strange in its own right, the era’s music forces us to listen in new ways. This was a time before chords. I’m not talking about monophonic Gregorian chant, which evolved centuries earlier. This is intensely polyphonic/contrapuntal music, with multiple lines weaving in and around each other. But there’s nothing like the chordal “skeleton” that underlies almost all music from subsequent centuries. And OMG, the rhythms! It would be 400 years before classical composers created rhythms of equal complexity.

Listening to this literature forces us to hear all music in new ways. It brings to mind the title of Barbara Tuchmann’s epic history of the 14th century: A Distant Mirror. When we turn back the musical clock by 500 years or more, we perceive some aspects that feel timeless and contemporary, testimony to our common humanity. (That’s the “mirror” part.) At the same time, it’s so alien and unknowable that it could have come from Mars. (That’s the “distant” part.) By the way, A Distant Mirror is a spellbinding page-turner, even if you don’t have a particular interest in history or the late Middle Ages. I can’t recommend it more highly.

I’m currently making an album featuring modernistic interpretations of this radical music. I’m not going for maximum historical accuracy the way I did when I was young. I want to capture both “distant” and “mirror.” It’s been a slow, experimental process with many dead ends and false starts. So many seemingly good ideas turned out to be cheesy in practice! But I’ve been making major headway recently, and I hope to have an album to share before the end of the year. (And that, by the way, is one of my main excuses for posting relatively few new YouTube videos over the last year.)

Sound Test: Wood Neck vs. Aluminum Neck

I’ve been wanting to try this A/B test for ages. I recorded my lipstick-tube “parts” Strat/ Then I replaced the MIM Fender neck with an aluminum neck from Alef Guitars before playing the same music through the same signal chain. The sound contrast is dramatic, consistent, and repeatable.

Is an aluminum neck for you? That’s a subjective call. It makes tones tighter and brighter, possibly at the expense of some midrange warmth. Since the EQ curve produced by the aluminum neck looks an awful lot like EQ adjustments I commonly make while mixing, I love the results.

The feel is equally subjective, but I love that as well. It’s almost surreally smooth and consistent.

What are your impressions?

Meet the Quesocaster! A New DIY Guitar Experiment.

This is my fifth and latest DIY guitar experiment using Warmoth parts. Most of the tech details are in the video, but I’ll share a few additional experiences and impressions.

I’ve been thinking about making something using the Fender Swinger body profile for a couple of years. My earlier Kitschcaster used Wamoth’s Fender Starcaster (“Mooncaster”) body, but when I made it, the company didn’t yet offer a version of that swooping Starcaster headstock. (No biggie — that Starcaster body looks great with a Strat-style headstock.) When they finally introduced a Starcaster neck last year, it occurred to me that the headstock’s curves might go nicely with the Swinger body.

I confess that when I unboxed the parts and saw that screaming orange finish, I had a “What was I thinking?” moment. But the look has grown on me since then. It’s also the first time I ordered a neck with stainless steel frets, which some players rave about. They felt weird at first, and now they feel normal. Now I’m not sure whether I perceive any difference in tone or feel.

I’ve had those Lollar pickups sitting around for a few years. (I previously demoed them as alternate strat pickups.) So I had the guitar routed for them. I’d forgotten how different the P-90 and the “Staple” sound! But they’re complimentary in an oddball way, and they produce cool yet crisp blended tone.

I didn’t decide on the final wiring till I heard the pickups in the body The P-90 has distinctive resonant peaks, so I voiced the bass-cut controls to compliment that. (I have some sort of bass cut in most of my non-vintage guitars.) I don’t love the look of toggle switches, but the Swinger/Musiclander body is too small to permit a third pot in the control cavity.

As usual I’m using expensive but awesome Thomastik-Infeld flatwound strings. No one ever listens, but for the zillionth time I’ll declare that flatwounds are great for distorted playing. When these pickups were designer, flats would have been the reference. And of course, anyone playing one of those early Les Paul Customs before the mid-1960s would have employed flats with that guitar’s P-90/staple pickup set.

I own all the appropriate tools for doing a proper guitar setup, but these days I’m lazy. I set the intonation by ear, and then just guess on the action. I keep a set of hex wrenches on hand while I play, and make adjustments on the fly, eventually arriving at something that feels good. (Same with pickup and pole piece height.) For some reason, it took me a long time to arrive at the right combination of neck relief, bridge height, and saddle height for this instrument. But I wound up with something that feels great. Even though I use heavier-than-usual strings and a wound third string, I’m not macho about the action. I like it as low as possible without buzzing.

The Best Band I’ve Ever Been In

A bright moment in a dark year was being asked to join Another Night on Earth, an international collective of electric guitarists performing classical music.

They say you’re a lucky musician if you get to work with players who are better than you. If this is true, I’m really frickin’ lucky.

Another Night on Earth (ANOE) is the brainchild of Heiko Ossig, a renowned concert guitarist who teaches of the University of Music and Theater in Hamburg, Germany. There he created the innovative Guitar Lab, where students meld traditional classical guitar approaches with modern technology. Ossig invited American composer/guitarist and Princeton University music professor Steven Mackey as a guest lecturer. (Mackey is almost certainly the world’s leading exponent of employing electric guitar in modern classical composition.) When the pandemic made that visit impossible, Ossig launched this project as an alternative.

In addition to Ossig and Mackey, the group includes six distinguished musicians: 

David Robertson is one of America’s leading orchestral conductors. After a long tenure as music director of the St. Louis Symphony and appearances with many of the world’s leading orchestras, he now serves as the director of conducting studies at New York’s Julliard School of Music. He also wields a mean Telecaster. 

Gretchen Menn is a California guitarist known for her virtuosity, musicality, and sheer stylistic range. A classic rock specialist, she performs with Zepparella, one of the leading Led Zeppelin tribute bands. But she also boasts a formidable classical pedigree, and she combines her influences in exciting and distinctive ways, often in ambitious extended-form compositions. 

• Italian virtuoso Daniele Gottardo boasts drop-dead technique and a phenomenally broad stylistic range. His rock shredding is second to none, but his repertoire also embraces classical music and jazz. Guitar icon Steve Vai has cited Daniele as his favorite contemporary player. 

• Korean-born classical guitarist Jiji is an assistant professor of music at Arizona State University. A tireless advocate for new music, she has premiered many works by emerging composers, often employing electric guitar. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and other premier classical music venues. 

• The New York Times rightly described composer/guitarist James Moore as “model new music citizen.” His career highlights include performing the music of John Zorn, George Crumb, and Steve Reich at such venues at BAM and the Barbican. He’s currently pursuing a PhD in music composition at Princeton. 

• Sometime last century Joe Gore dropped out of the PhD music composition program at UC Berkeley to play in rock bands. He went on to record and tour with Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Tracy Chapman, Courtney Love, John Cale, and many other artists. He’s also a music journalist who has edited for the magazines Guitar Player and Premier Guitar.

Assembling all this was a complicated but gratifying process. I talk about it in this video chat with conductor David Robertson, who may well be the heaviest musician I’ve ever collaborated with.

The Dobro EBow No No

As if this year wasn’t sucky enough: I tripped on the sidewalk ands fractured my left wrist. I’ll be fine in a few weeks, but I had to put a hold on a couple of projects in progress.

But there are a few things you can play when your forearm is in a cast. Dobro, for example. Or EBow. Or both at once.

Music from A Plague Year

Hi folks! I created this video during my initial COVID quarantine, but I cleverly forgot to post it here at tonefiend.com.

When COVID struck, I was in Mexico City, working on a MTV Unplugged special with one of my all-time favorite bands. (I can’t share the details yet.) But the project was postponed when the scope of the disaster became clear, and I rushed home. I quarantined in the studio for two weeks and recorded this.

For decades Claudio Monteverdi has always been one of my three favorite composers, along with Claude Debussy and Duke Ellington. He’s one of the most fascinating figures in music history. It’s an exaggeration to say that he invented opera, but only a slight one. Over the course of his long career, opera transformed from an avant-garde experiment among court intellectuals to a grand popular entertainment. He also composed many books of madrigals and some of the most gorgeous liturgical music ever created. He pushed the period’s musical limits on all fronts: dissonance, drama, instrumentation, structure, and psychological depth. Do yourself a favor and read up on this radical visionary!

This piece, Zefiro Torna, was originally a vocal piece, based on a poem celebrating the return of spring. (This video includes a lovely traditional performance, with a scrolling view of the score.)

When the piece was published in 1623, there wasn’t much to celebrate. Europe was decimated after the ravages of the insane international power grab known as the 30 Years War. Venice, the composer’s adopted home, had lost a third of its population to the plagues that accompanied the incessant violence. Yet it’s exceedingly upbeat music, celebrating the seasons rebirth — until toward the end, when the mood turns dismal as the poet/narrator mourns that he alone is miserable, tortured by unrequited love.

For my video I performed the vocal lines mostly on overdubbed Veillette Gryphon. It’s a small 12-string tuned an a minor 7th above standard. (That is, when I finger the piece in its original key of G, it comes out in F.) Most of the other instruments perform the continuo — that is, the bass line and chords, as indicated in ubiquitous Baroque-era shorthand.

As I write now, many months later, COVID rages worse than ever. In the intervening time I’ve returned again and again to medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque music from times of plague. There’s something soothing about beauty born of cataclysm. It’s a tribute to the better angels of our artist nature at a time when good angels are scarce.

P.S.: That postponed Mexican project returned to life last month. It’s a fun story that I’ll share soon.

New Pedal: Purr Vibrato

About frickin’ time! I announced this new Vibrato pedal at NAMM 2018. Now it’s time for NAMM 2019, and Purr is finally available and in stock at Vintage King.

Why so long? As soon as we finalized the prototype and designed the new circuit board, a crucial part suddenly became unavailable. ARGH!

It took forever to track down an acceptable substitute. But we finally did, and I’m thrilled with the results. I hope other guitarists dig it too.

Hey, if you’re going to NAMM 2019 in Anaheim next week, please stop by and say hi. Especially since since I’ll be sharing a booth with my my friend James Trussart, creator of some of the loveliest guitars ever conceived. We’ll be in Hall D at Booth 3942.

It’s too early to say whether guitarist will dig the Purr pedal. But at least someone I know is excited about the new release!

Loopocalypse: A Live Looping Concert

This 65-minute performance features 17 of the songs I’ve been performing live over the last couple of years. In concert, though, I use a single instrument. But here I get to play most of my favorite guitars.

I’ve posted each of these songs individually over the last few weeks, but this is the first time I’ve shared them as a single video.

Song List
1. Heroes (00:20)
2. Thunderbeast Park (05:28)
3. Just Like Heaven (09:09)
4. Shake It Off 11/8 (13:14)
5. God Only Knows (18:14)
6. Monospace (21:12)
7. Lujon (24:39)
8. Disco Plato (28:15)
9. Pumped Up Kicks (32:00)
10. Pandemonic Waltz (36:44)
11. Love Will Tear (38:16)
12. Midnight Cowboy (42:57)
13. In Like Flint (46:13)
14. Space Shrine (48:45)
15. Rhiannon (52:34)
16. Luxardo (56:55)
17. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (01:00:58)

Tech Notes
1. Joe’s Looping Rig (01:05:25)
2. The Guitars (01:08:39)

Loopocalypse Day 17 (of 17): “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.”

For the last day of Loopocalypse, here’s a cover of Spiritualized exquisite “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.” I often close my show with this tune.

Here’s an explanation of my live looping rig.

In first heard this song in while asleep on one of those coffin beds on a tour bus. I was listening with headphones, and awoke during the tunes final seconds, with earlier passages still in my head. As it it weren’t already sufficiently dreamlike and spacy.

Spiritualized’s original studio masterpiece flirts with the melody of Willie Nelson’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” though it never quite crosses the copyright line. In concert, however, the backing choir breaks into the tune near the end, (as heard here at 08:00) and it’s magnificent. What a masterpiece!

The guitar is my DIY Kitschcaster, with Warmoth parts, TV Jones Filter’Tron pickups, and some very weird electronics. More details here and here.

How my looping rig works: https://bit.ly/2SO5JcU